Jennie is a retired teacher and primary school principal with the Toronto District School Board. Over her career, she conducted both primary and junior choirs, and taught music for several years. She is the mother of three and grandmother of four children. Jennie is currently Chair of Echo’s Board, and also sits on the board of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, an environmental advocacy group.
Echo: Where did your love of music come from?
JU: All the way from my early childhood. I started piano lessons at seven, I was always in the choir at school and joined the church choir as soon as I could. Our family has a tradition of singing together. And we still have that tradition now. All three of my children are musical in different ways. Music gives you such joy. You feel better.
Echo: What first attracted you to Echo Women’s Choir? What appeals to you most about the choir? How does it compare with the other choirs you have belonged to?
JU: I was a music teacher; [about twenty years ago] Alan [Gasser] was working with the TDSB as part of their international music program and came to teach Georgian music to my students and the junior choir. At that time, I was looking for a choir and he told me about Echo Women’s Choir. I had to wait a year and a half to get in. One of the things that appeals to me about Echo is the international music aspect of it. It is interesting and challenging. It’s not only learning another language, but learning different kinds of musical tones and scales. I also love the visiting artists; we learn from all sorts of other musicians, not just the directors. I had belonged to other choirs, but their repertoire didn’t inspire me. I love folk music from around the world.
Echo: During your twenty years with Echo, you have served twice as chair of the Board of Directors. How have you seen the choir evolve during this time? In what direction do you see it going?
JU: I joined the board during my second year with the choir, for a four-year term, then again, a few years ago. During my involvement with the board, we rewrote the by-laws to be specific to Echo. We shifted fundraising events to be more participatory, fun, and social, and to a different venue from Holy Trinity. When I first joined, there were no other choirs like Echo; now there are many to choose from.
Since Covid, we’ve had to pivot to online meetings and rehearsals. This has regrettably left out members who find it difficult to follow the scores without the benefit of hearing other voices. We have not been learning international music as much during this period.
There was a big change when the co-founder and co-director Becca Whitla left a couple of years ago. She had contributed an energy and personal perspective that have been missed. The onset of Covid put a hold on hiring a new assistant conductor, since many of our sources of revenue dried up. I am optimistic that once we can hold concerts and in-person fundraisers again, we will fill this position.
Hopefully, we can get back together in January, or perhaps adopt a hybrid solution where some members attend online while others attend in person.